Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Review: Babylon Babies

So, I finally got around to reading the book that Babylon AD is based on. This is a movie that I bought in the hopes that Vin Diesel would get nekkid, and wound up enjoying in spite of (or maybe because of) the weird ass plot.

Generally, when there's a question of book vs movie I pick the book. Then again, generally, when there's a movie based on a book, the plot is the same. Oh, things get switched around, cut, reorganized and generally polished for the different format but the plot is still recognizable.

Not in this one. I don't know whether it's the translation of the book from French to English, or the fact that Hollywood said "Ok, we're gonna make this a little less... French..." but there are very few things that the book and the movie have in common.

Here's where I say spoiler alert. If you haven't seen the movie, you may not want to read the rest of this post. If you haven't read the book, well, read on, because I can save you some time and effort.

First common point: Toorop. A mercenary of immense skill, your average love-to-hate-em protagonist. Except, in the movie, he's highly skilled and implacable, doing his job with precision, dedication, and a certain flair (come on, he backflips a snowmobile into a rocket. That's cool.) In the book, he's kinda fuckin nuts. To start with, he recites poetry to the corpses of men he kills in single combat. The virtual peeks inside his head provided by the author are, especially in the beginning, confusing, convoluted, and mostly lacking in anything most folks would call sense.

Second common point: Toorop is engaged by Gorsky (Russian Mafia, same name in both, but different dudes, apparently) to deliver a young woman from the wilds of Russia to North America. Again, here's where the split is. In the movie, Toorop must accomplish this with nothing but Gorsky's cash, and a car thoughtfully stuffed with cash, weapons, and maps, provided by Gorsky. In the book, Toorop has a team of mercenaries, and logistical support from both the Russian Mafia and a branch of the Russian Intelligence Service headed by a corrupt colonel. Toorop makes the plans, but he has access to helicopters and safe houses along the way. Far less cool than taking off with a couple chicks in the back seat and a trunk full of cash and ammo.

Third Common Point: The young woman in question is pregnant with twins, who will eventually be discovered to be a whole new species of human, hyper intelligent and capable of amazing things.

That's pretty much all they have in common. The young woman has a different name in the movie (Aurora) than the book (Marie Zorn). There is no Sister Rebeccah in the book. No submarines breaking through the ice, no run from killer patrol drones.

Oh, and in the book, Marie is special because she's schizophrenic, and has been treated with special drugs and such to help her control her schizo tendencies, which has the amazing side effect of allowing her to interface directly with the Cosmic Serpent, a sort of hive mind of all living things, apparently made up entirely of DNA.

To be honest, I really didn't follow any more of the explanation than that. It just drips new-age ancient mysticism, and my brain just sort of went "um... ok?" and moved on.

As odd and sometimes disjointed as the plot of the movie is, it's still followable to the extent that in the end you're saying "aww" as Aurora sheds a single tear, dying in the moment her babies are born. Yes, Aurora is odd, apparently a bit telepathic, and in possession of knowledge that she has no experience of, but she's still a character you can connect to on some level.

Marie Zorn is... well, she's nuts. I must admit that while I know very little about schizophrenia the writing conveyed the bug nuts bit quite nicely. The problem is, most of the time I couldn't tell if the writer was trying to write from a schizo perspective or not. The entire book is a writhing mass of strange metaphors, long winded internal monologues, and just plain weird ass imagery.

I can let the flow problems slide. It's always difficult to preserve the integrity of a text when it's translated, and I'll give the author the benefit of the doubt that it's far more readable in French, since I can't check.

All in all, I say skip the book and watch the movie. If for no other reason than Vin Diesel and Melanie Thierry provide excellent eye candy no matter what your personal flavor of choice may be.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I prefer a movie to a book.... I'm not entirely sure what to do with myself now....